LUCAS — The game plan hasn’t changed, but the implementation is different.
Lucas coach Scott Spitler still wants to establish the running game, but instead of relying on a single workhorse, Spitler has a stable full of thoroughbreds at his disposal.
The second-seeded Cubs (9-2) will meet No. 6 Louisville St. Thomas Aquinas (7-3) in the Division VII, Region 25 semifinals at 7 p.m. Saturday at Northwest High School in Canal Fulton. The Cubs find themselves in the second round of the playoffs for a second straight year thanks in no small part to the dynamic running tandem of Tommy Zirzow and Ethan Sauder. The dynamic duo has combined for more than 2,400 rushing yards through 11 games.
“They are like our thunder and lightning,” Spitler said after last week’s 21-20 overtime win over McDonald in the opening round of the playoffs.
For the past few seasons, Jeb Grover has served as both the thunder and the lightning in the Lucas rushing attack. When he graduated last spring, Grover took with him 6,332 career rushing yards.
Despite Grover’s departure, Lucas’ ground production hasn’t dipped dramatically. The Cubs rushed for more than 2,700 yards during the regular season, with Zirzow (1,204) and Sauder (930) leading the charge.
Sauder rushed for 142 yards and a touchdown in last week’s win, while Zirzow added 128 yards and a score.
“It’s definitely hard to step in those shoes. Jeb was phenomenal,” said Zirzow, a senior who had reconstructive knee surgery after a serious injury midway through his sophomore season. “What’s so awesome is we have so many weapons this year. That has opened it up for us.”
Quarterback Logan Niswander is in his third season in charge of the Lucas attack. Speedy senior receiver Carson Hauger is a deep threat and tight end Riley Mounts had a huge 43 yard catch-and-run on a screen pass last week to set up the game-tying score late in the fourth quarter.
Controlling the clock will be even more important than usual Saturday night. Aquinas boasts a quick-strike passing attack led by quarterback Alex Hawkins, who has thrown for more than 2,000 yards and 25 touchdowns. Wideout A’sian Burt has more than 1,000 receiving yards and 14 TDs.
“They look pretty fast and athletic,” said Zirzow, who doubles as a linebacker on defense. “They want to use their speed to their advantage on both sides and they like to pass a lot.
“That is a little different, but we’ve played some who like to pass. I think our schedule has prepared us for everything we run into in the tournament.”